Friday, December 01, 2006

Excessive Force Lawsuit Raises Questions

Today's Albany Times Union reports that a couple has sued the Rotterdam police for excessive force:

Plaintiffs Robert Berard and Gail Hudson contend they were awakened in the middle of the night on July 29, 2005, by police outside the couple's camper, which was parked in the driveway of 2627 Van Dyke Ave.

Officers with a police tactical unit and detectives had just searched the house where Hudson's daughter, Dina Franz, and her husband John reside. Police went to the house that night with a search warrant because, days earlier, an informant bought crack cocaine there, police said. Dina and John Franz were arrested without incident.

But then the police turned their attention to the camper.

Police contend Berard and Hudson failed to comply with their orders and appeared to be drunk and that their dog was out of control. The dog was pepper-sprayed and the couple arrested. The couple say they were roughed up and that trumped up charges were brought against them.

Certainly one can appreciate police efforts to curb drug dealing by targeting those who sell as opposed to those who buy.

There are also a number of unanswered questions that deserve considerable attention. For example:

1. How did the police read a warrant for a dwelling and surrounding grounds to include an occupied camper parked in the driveway? One of two things is in play here: either the police have a very poor fundamental concept of the 4th amendment, or, they just decided that while they were there and all dressed up they should see what else they could find. Either of these conclusions is troubling.

2. What were the circumstances that required a "tactical unit" to execute a raid in the middle of the night in the first place? Is selling crack - - in any amount - - an automatic ticket to a S.W.A.T. visit? The increasingly common use of tactical units to deal with small potatoes drug crimes has been extensively documented.

So what was really going on here? It deserves a deeper look.

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